Photo: Phil Velasquez Chicago Tribune
Some things just don’t have the same appeal once you become a parent and age out of a certain demographic. The MTV VMAs, for one. Midnight movie showings. Standing next to the speakers at Lollapalooza.
But one of the toughest adjustments is life as a Chicago sports fan bringing the kids to a game. I've heard this lament from parents more than once. My new-dad friend, for example, just learned the hard way that Wrigleyville on game day is not an ideal place to take his infant son for lunch.
However, we parents, we were young and carefree once. And nobody wants to become those people who expect all 35,000 people at US Cellular Field (ok, maybe 20,000) to cater to the babies’ delicate sensibilities.
But with the Bears' season starting, plenty of baseball games left to see, and basketball and hockey on the horizon, you’d be depriving yourself—and your kid—if you avoided all professional sporting events on account of noise, alcohol, and rowdiness.
To find that happy medium, I spoke to various Chicago sports fans and parents on how to get a reasonably kid-friendly experience at a Chicago sporting event.
Do: Think and plan ahead. One mom who has taken her first-grader to several Bulls games says, “We get to the United Center early so he could get his face painted, make a sign and go look at everything.” She’s had good experiences in terms of a family-friendly crowd with 300-level tickets.
Do: Expand your circle beyond Chicago proper. Several parents I spoke with sang the praises of saving money by seeing the Cubs play at Miller Park, which also provides some alcohol-free sections for parents who want to keep their kids away from the potential for drunken loudmouthery. Other friends swear that Kane County Cougars and Chicago Wolves games are worth the price of the drive for the atmosphere and cost.
Do: Check your team’s stadium map and promotional schedule. “The White Sox fundamentals area is great. On Sundays, the Sox have many fan-friendly events with reduced tickets and parking,” says WBEZ sports reporter Cheryl Raye Stout. “The Blackhawks have a pre-season fan festival that they do outside just before the season. The Bears training camp has a kids’ area, plus it is a free chance to see the team practice.” Stout also points out the Blackhawks hold some open practices for fans to see at Johnny's IceHouse, at 2550 W. Madison St.
Don’t: Underestimate what a little rivalry and a lot of alcohol can do to adult fans. “The fans are just plain mean at Cubs-Sox games,” says Stout. “My son and his friend were hassled by adults (more than once) because they wear each wore a different jersey.” Another friend, a Northwestern alumna, had a negative experience when she and her son were caught in the crosshairs of some derisive and drunken Ohio State fans after a football game. And any Bears-Packers game is simply not be the best choice for a little one.
Don’t: Assume a game’s satellite functions are kid-friendly. One friend’s son was uncomfortable and downright frightened when she took him to a Cubs rooftop party and saw adults who drank to the point of incapacitation. “I also think the drinking is over the top and not pleasant before the Bears games,” advises Stout.
Do: Remember the non-pro teams in the area. “Northwestern and UIC are both great for basketball and have great mascots who play with the fans,” says one mom I know. “UIC usually has a game with a halftime battle of the mascots each year, and it is excellent.”
Do: Think daytime in general. “Bulls and Blackhawk games are best when they have matinees; more kids are there and the atmosphere reflects it,” says Stout.
Don’t: Be afraid to drop some dough, if you’ve got it. “Lower level sky box at the United Center. Close enough to catch tee-shirts. Bathroom in box. TV inside in case kids get bored. Dessert cart,” advised one terse, well-heeled friend. I admit just wanted to ask him why he just doesn’t take me to those games—no way his kids would appreciate it as much as I would.